If your cat is constantly stealing, chewing on, or scratching up your favorite pair of shoes, it can get pretty old pretty quick. However, your cat’s obsession with your shoes is actually a compliment–they’re trying to get closer to you by way of the one article of clothing that’s most likely to smell like you! In addition, because your shoes collect all sorts of interesting smells throughout the day, the combination of familiar and new scents can be irresistible to a curious cat!
Most cat experts agree that a cat’s need to seek out your shoes is generally a well-intentioned gesture that can nevertheless leave owners feeling frustrated. If you find your cats unable to leave your shoe rack alone, then it’s often a lot easier to prevent them from reaching their target than it is to train them to give up the hunt.
Why Do Smells Matter to Cats?
Of the five senses, smell is probably one of the most important for cats and their daily communications. You’ve probably seen your cat rubbing against furniture, or even against your legs if you stand still for long enough. While this can sometimes be because they find the sensation pleasant, this rubbing can also serve as a form of scent-marking.
Cats have scent glands, located all over their body, that secrete a pheromone unique to each cat. When they rub their faces against the leg of your table, they’re leaving behind a scent marker that any other cat will be able to detect immediately. This helps them mark their territory, and claim pretty much anything they see as belonging to them exclusively.
This scent-marking also helps cats identify each other. As mentioned above, the smell of each cat is unique and different from any other cats in the area. Similarly, cats can recognize the distinct smells of their owners as well as they can recognize the smell of other cats.
Interestingly enough, evidence suggests that cats don’t pay very much attention to their owner’s faces. While they may react to exaggerated expressions, they don’t display the same level of face-reading as dogs do and seem to have some level of relative face blindness. Instead, they mostly seem to react to and recognize to things as specifically belonging to the people that they care about — their owners’ voices, and, of course, their owner’s smell.
Obviously, your cat recognizes you and is generally pleased to see you when you come home at the end of the day. If you notice your cat perking up before someone’s entered the room, the combination of their acute hearing and sense of smell allow them to anticipate someone’s approach long before you can do the same.
Since your cat values your presence so highly and also recognizes your distinct smell as something comforting and pleasing, it makes sense to expect that they should gravitate towards things that smell like you. Cats, like most other domesticated animals, react well to having objects that smell like their owners, as these can serve like comfort objects even in uncomfortable situations.
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So Why Do My Cats Want My Shoes So Badly?
Now that we know how important smells are to cats, it should come as no surprise that the things they like to steal the most are, well, the things that smell the most like you. Especially if you have a particular pair of shoes that you wear all the time, your shoes are going to smell like your sweat, and, by extension, very much like you.
It sounds kind of gross, but for your cats, your shoes are a very concentrated dose of the thing that helps them recognize you in a crowd. For this reason, you may notice your cat stockpiling your shoes in places where they like to hide away. Your shoes serve as a comfort object and a way for them to remember you even when you’re not right in front of them.
Especially if you have to be away at work or at school during the day, you’ll probably notice your cat sleeping on or around your shoes. This serves as a method of self-comforting, and is basically your cat’s way of thinking of you throughout the day. For especially nervous cats, this can also serve as a reminder of who you are and a reminder that you’ll be coming back soon to play with them.
Obviously, this is a very sweet behavior for your cats to display, but it can be kind of annoying to tear the house apart looking for your missing shoe before finally finding it beneath your cat. For this reason, it can be difficult to keep those sweet intentions in mind, especially if the hoarding behavior is starting to cut into your early morning daily preparations.
While shoes are an inconvenient enough thing to have stolen, it could always be worse. Some cats prefer to steal their owner’s dirty socks or underwear, presumably for the same scent-based reasons. Next time a guest or visiting friend trips over a suddenly unearthed shoe, take a moment to be glad they’re not literally tripping over your dirty laundry!
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So What Can I Do?
In all seriousness, having a cat that constantly steals your shoe can be a major roadblock as you race to get ready each morning. For this reason, sometimes convincing your cat to leave your shoes alone can be a matter of utmost priority, no matter how pure of heart their intentions may be.
Unfortunately, for reasons mentioned above, it can be very difficult to discourage cats from seeking out your shoes as their own personal security blanket. Basically, it’s a lot easier to block your cat’s access to your shoes than it is to convince them that what they’re doing is wrong.
If you have a way of completely cutting off your cat’s access to your shoe stash–a closing door or box–make sure that it’s firmly secured before you leave for work. Because cats can climb, it probably won’t be enough to store them higher up, but try and seal them away somewhere where your cats can’t reach them.
If this isn’t really an option, then it may be time to look into providing other outlets for your cat’s kleptomaniac tendencies. Try letting your cat use an old item of workout clothes as a blanket, or making an old pair of socks into a new toy for them to play with.
Using an old item of clothing like this will do two things. First, it will provide your cats with something that carries your scent, which will help them feel safe and reassured whenever you have to leave. Second, it will keep them from gravitating towards newer items of clothing.
Of course, if you catch your cat in the actual act of stealing your shoes, you can always try and discourage them. The ubiquitous spray bottle is usually a good way of discouraging undesired behavior in cats, even if it’s not always foolproof. Similarly, you can encourage them, with treats and verbal praise, for choosing toys or previously provided clothing items over brand new shoes.
However, it’s always good to keep in mind that shouting or acting aggressively towards your cat will most likely scare them instead of actively doing anything to change their behavior. When a cat is startled or scared, they’re generally not thinking clearly enough to be able to discern the reason for your anger, and instead will act on instinct. As a result, losing your temper with your cat’s behavior can do a lot to set their training back significantly.
They’re generally not thinking clearly enough to be able to discern the reason for your anger, and instead will act on instinct. As a result, losing your temper with your cat’s behavior can do a lot to set their training back significantly.
In the end, there’s really not a lot you can do to keep your cat from stealing your shoes. If you live in a place where you can physically restrict your cat’s access to your shoes, then definitely do so. If, however, you can’t actually stop your cats from getting into your shoes when you’re away, then your best bet is to provide an alternative to constant shoe stealing.
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While a cat’s apparent need to seek and destroy any shoes in their owner’s closet can be incredibly frustrating, it really does come from the best of intentions. If you find your cats constantly gravitating towards your footwear, know that it serves as a sign of your cat’s keen interest in your health and daily adventures, and that they’re trying their best to show you how much you matter to them!
However, as sweet as the sentiment behind such shoe-seeking behavior may be, it can still put a major dent in your daily routine. To keep your shoes safe from these literal cat burglars, try to keep them in a place where your cat can’t reach, or else provide an alternative for their scent-marking needs.
Ultimately, keep in mind that your cat is acting out of affection for you and any other family members–but take the steps necessary to make sure that their overtures of affection won’t keep you from getting all the things done that you need to do.
Product data was last updated on 2023-02-03.
"In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this."
-- Terry Pratchett